Sunday, January 29, 2017
Major Review Completed for NASA’s New SLS Exploration Upper Stage (News Release - January 27)
NASA has successfully completed the exploration upper stage (EUS) preliminary design review for the powerful Space Launch System rocket. The detailed assessment is a big step forward in being ready for more capable human and robotic missions to deep space, including the first crewed flight of SLS and NASA's Orion spacecraft in 2021.
"To send humans and even more cargo farther away from Earth than ever before, NASA decided to add a more powerful upper stage -- the upper part of the rocket that continues to operate after launch and ascent," said Kent Chojnacki, EUS team lead and preliminary design review manager.
"With the completion of this review, our teams will start developing components and materials for the EUS, and build up tooling," he added. "Full-scale manufacturing will begin after the critical design phase is completed." Critical design review is the next programmatic milestone that will provide a final look at the design and development of the EUS before beginning full-scale fabrication.
Starting with that first crewed mission, future configurations of SLS will include the larger exploration upper stage and use four RL10C-3 engines. The EUS will replace the interim cryogenic propulsion stage that will be used on the initial configuration of SLS for the first, uncrewed flight with Orion. The EUS will use an 8.4-meter diameter liquid hydrogen tank and a 5.5-meter diameter liquid oxygen tank. A new universal stage adapter will connect the EUS to the Orion spacecraft, and be capable of carrying large co-manifested payloads, such as a habitat.
The preliminary design review kicked off Nov. 30, 2016, with approximately 500 experts from across NASA and industry assessing more than 320 items on the EUS, including documents and data. This review had a new "techie" touch to it with the incorporation of virtual reality glasses, which gave teams enhanced visuals of how the EUS is put together and a broader perspective on the size of the hardware. The preliminary design review board was completed Jan. 19, with the board voting unanimously that the EUS is ready to move to the critical design phase.
"I couldn’t be prouder of the SLS Stages team completing this review," said SLS Program Manager John Honeycutt. "We continue to make progress on hardware for SLS’s first flight, while also working on the next-generation rocket that will take astronauts to deep-space destinations, like Mars."
The powerful stage will be built at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Massive welding machines, like the Vertical Assembly Center, currently building the SLS core stage, also will help build the EUS liquid hydrogen tank. New tooling and assembly areas will be put in place to manufacture the liquid oxygen tank.
Once built, the EUS structural test article will undergo qualification testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to ensure the hardware can withstand the incredible stresses of launch. "Green run" testing on the first flight article will be done at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. For the test, the EUS and RL10 engines will fire up together for the first time before being sent to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the 2021 launch.
Friday, January 27, 2017
NASA / Kim Shiflett
NASA Unveils Tribute to Crew of Apollo 1 (Press Release)
A new tribute opened Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, at the Apollo/Saturn V Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, dedicated to the lives, accomplishments and memories of the three astronauts who perished 50 years ago in a launch pad fire while training for the flight of Apollo 1. The tribute exhibit stands only a few miles from the long-abandoned Launch Complex 34, the launch pad where the fire took place. The pad was dismantled in 1968 after the launch of Apollo 7.
Called "Ad Astra Per Aspera - A Rough Road Leads to the Stars," the permanent exhibition carries the blessings of the families of Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White II and Roger Chaffee. It showcases clothing, tools and models that define the men as their parents, wives and children saw them as much as how the nation viewed them.
The tribute also displays for the first time the three-section hatch from the Apollo 1 capsule that caught fire at Launch Complex 34 on Jan. 27, 1967. The astronauts were not able to escape the smoke and blaze inside the spacecraft before they asphyxiated despite their own efforts and those of numerous pad crew members who braved thick fumes and scorching temperatures to try to get the men out.
"Although the fire took place across the river on Launch Pad 34, their story didn’t end there and their legacy lives on today," said Sheryl Chaffee, daughter of Roger Chaffee.
The new tribute features displays that tell the full story of the lives of the astronauts, the fire and the work the NASA team put in to rebound from the devastating loss.
"Ultimately, this is a story of hope, because these astronauts were dreaming of the future that is unfolding today," said former astronaut Bob Cabana, center director at Kennedy. "Generations of people around the world will learn who these brave astronauts were and how their legacies live on through the Apollo successes and beyond."
The main focus was to show the astronauts to generations who never met them and may not know much about them or the early space program.
"This lets you now meet Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee as members of special families and also as members of our own family," said NASA's Luis Berrios, who co-led the tribute design that would eventually involve more than 100 planners and workers to realize. "You get to know some of the things that they liked to do and were inspired by. You look at the things they did and if anyone does just one of those things, it's a lifetime accomplishment and they did all of it and more."
For Grissom, one of NASA's Original Seven astronauts who flew the second Mercury mission, a hunting jacket and a pair of ski boots are on display, along with a small model of the Mercury spacecraft and a model of an F-86 Sabre jet like the one he flew in the Korean War. There is also a slide rule and engineering drafts that typify his dedication to detail.
The small handheld maneuvering thruster that Ed White II used to steer himself outside his Gemini capsule during the first American spacewalk features prominently in a display case of the West Point graduate whose athletic prowess nearly equaled his flying acumen. An electric drill stands alongside the "zip gun," as he called the thruster.
"It was great to juxtaposition it with a drill which was also a tool that Ed loved to use," Berrios said. "He had a tremendous passion for making things for his family."
Roger Chaffee, for whom Apollo 1 would have been his first mission into space, was an esteemed Naval aviator who became a test pilot in his drive to qualify as an astronaut later. Displayed are board games like those he played with his wife and kids on rare evenings free of training.
The three men had worked an earlier mission together as astronauts, but not as crewmates. During Gemini 4, the mission in which Ed White made his landmark spacewalk, Grissom and Chaffee served as CAPCOMs, talking to White and mission commander James McDivitt.
After the fire, NASA set out on an exhaustive examination of every element of the spacecraft and launch systems.
Beside the failed hatch is one element of the improvements, a redesigned hatch that would fly on all subsequent Apollo missions. Full of modifications that let the hatch open in five seconds in an emergency, the redesigned hatch is displayed as a symbol of all the improvements made throughout the Apollo spacecraft and NASA itself that would set the agency on a successful course to land 12 men on the moon.
"That part of the exhibit is a story of determination and resolve and also something as elemental as a hatch – the complexities of just one component in a vehicle that has over 2 million parts," Berrios said. "After the loss of the crew in that tragic event, NASA learned how to really look at every piece of a rocket and imagine what could happen and it made the spacecraft safer and allowed us to get to the moon, land on it and even with Apollo 13, to recover that crew safely."
After seeing the hatches, visitors will walk through a gateway and down the same metal walkway astronauts used later to get to the Apollo spacecraft as it stood on a Saturn V rocket poised for the moon.
"Grissom, White, Chaffee, President Kennedy - I think these names are appropriately mentioned together," said Michael Collins, the command module pilot for Apollo 11. "Apollo 1 tragically cost three lives, but I think it saved more than three lives later. Without it, very likely we would've not landed on the moon by the end of the decade."
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
New Spacesuit Unveiled for Starliner Astronauts (News Release)
Astronauts heading into orbit aboard Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will wear lighter and more comfortable spacesuits than earlier suits astronauts wore. The suit capitalizes on historical designs, meets NASA requirements for safety and functionality, and introduces cutting-edge innovations. Boeing unveiled its spacesuit design Wednesday as the company continues to move toward flight tests of its Starliner spacecraft and launch systems that will fly astronauts to the International Space Station.
A few of the advances in the design:
- Lighter and more flexible through use of advanced materials and new joint patterns
- Helmet and visor incorporated into the suit instead of detachable
- Touchscreen-sensitive gloves
- Vents that allow astronauts to be cooler, but can still pressurize the suit immediately
- The full suit, which includes an integrated shoe, weighs about 20 pounds with all its accessories – about 10 pounds lighter than the launch-and-entry suits worn by space shuttle astronauts.
The new Starliner suit's material lets water vapor pass out of the suit, away from the astronaut, but keeps air inside. That makes the suit cooler without sacrificing safety. Materials in the elbows and knees give astronauts more movement, too, while strategically located zippers allow them to adapt the suit's shape when standing or seated.
"The most important part is that the suit will keep you alive," astronaut Eric Boe said. "It is a lot lighter, more form-fitting and it's simpler, which is always a good thing. Complicated systems have more ways they can break, so simple is better on something like this."
Of course, the suit has to be as functional as it is safe, Boe said. If an astronaut gets strapped in but can't reach the switches or work the touchscreen, the spacesuit would not be effective. That's why astronauts have spent some of their time sitting inside a Starliner mock-up wearing the spacesuit. They climb in and out repeatedly and try out different reaches and positions so they can establish the best ways for astronauts to work inside the spacecraft's confines.
"The spacesuit acts as the emergency backup to the spacecraft's redundant life support systems," said Richard Watson, subsystem manager for spacesuits for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. "If everything goes perfectly on a mission, then you don't need a spacesuit. It's like having a fire extinguisher close by in the cockpit. You need it to be effective if it is needed."
Boe and astronauts Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley and Suni Williams are training for flight tests using spacecraft under development for NASA's Commercial Crew Program, including Boeing's Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon systems. Flight tests with astronauts aboard are slated to begin in 2018.
The spacesuits astronauts wear for walking in space are already aboard the station. Heavier and bulkier than launch-and-entry suits, spacewalking ensembles – called EMUs for extravehicular mobility units – have to function as a spacecraft unto themselves.
Standing inside the company's Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, former astronaut Chris Ferguson, who is now director of Crew and Mission Systems for Boeing, modeled the new suit in front of a mock-up of the Starliner spacecraft. On launch day, astronauts will don the suit in the historic Crew Quarters before striding across the Crew Access Arm at Space Launch Complex 41 and boarding a Starliner as it stands atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
"We slogged through some of the real engineering challenges and now we are getting to the point where those challenges are largely behind us and it's time to get on to the rubber meeting the road," Ferguson said.
Carrying up to four astronauts at a time for NASA, operational Commercial Crew missions are to take astronauts to the space station on a regular basis permitting the crew on the orbiting laboratory to grow to seven residents. That will mean more science and research time for NASA to seek vital answers for the challenges of future deep-space missions.
From this point, Boeing will continue fit checks and other testing alongside the astronauts as all the teams train for the missions and push toward flight tests.
"To me, it's a very tangible sign that we are really moving forward and we are a lot closer than we've been," Ferguson said. "The next time we pull all this together, it might be when astronauts are climbing into the actual spacecraft."
Monday, January 16, 2017
NASA / Harrison J. Schmitt
NASA Administrator Reflects on Legacy of Last Man to Walk on Moon (Press Release)
The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the passing of Gemini and Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan:
“Gene first served his country as a Naval Aviator before taking the pilot's seat on the Gemini 9 mission, where he became the second American to walk in space and helped demonstrate rendezvous techniques that would be important later. As a crew member of both the Apollo 10 and 17 missions, he was one of three men to have flown twice to the moon. He commanded Apollo 17 and set records that still stand for longest manned lunar landing flight, longest lunar surface extravehicular activities, largest lunar sample return, and longest time in lunar orbit.
“Gene's footprints remain on the moon, and his achievements are imprinted in our hearts and memories. His drive to explore and do great things for his country is summed up in his own words:
‘We truly are in an age of challenge. With that challenge comes opportunity. The sky is no longer the limit. The word impossible no longer belongs in our vocabulary. We have proved that we can do whatever we have the resolve to do. The limit to our reach is our own complacency.’
“In my last conversation with him, he spoke of his lingering desire to inspire the youth of our nation to undertake the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) studies, and to dare to dream and explore. He was one of a kind and all of us in the NASA Family will miss him greatly.”
NASA / Harrison J. Schmitt
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Even though this was an unmanned rocket that lifted off towards low-Earth orbit this morning, the successful return to flight of SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster puts the company back on track to achieve a major milestone that's set for sometime this year: the maiden launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket that will be capable of sending human-rated vehicles such as Crew Dragon into deep space within the coming years. Here's hoping that 2017 will be a banner year for SpaceX as well as Boeing...since these two NASA partners are poised to send astronauts into space from American soil once more—via the Crew Dragon and CST-100 Starliner in 2018. Exciting times lay ahead.
Friday, January 13, 2017
Yesterday, engineers inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida installed the 20th and final work platform that will be used to assemble and prep the Space Launch System for its maiden flight next year. In all, there are 10 levels of platforms that are needed to grant workers access to the mammoth rocket inside the VAB prior to being rolled out to its pad at KSC's Launch Complex 39B in late 2018. Exploration Mission 1 is getting ever so closer to becoming a reality...
NASA / Frank Michaux
NASA / Frank Michaux
Monday, January 9, 2017
NASA / MSFC / Emmett Given
Construction Complete: Stand Prepares to Test SLS’s Largest Fuel Tank (Press Release)
Major construction is complete on NASA’s largest new Space Launch System structural test stand, and engineers are now installing equipment needed to test the rocket’s biggest fuel tank. The stand is critical for ensuring SLS’s liquid hydrogen tank can withstand the extreme forces of launch and ascent on its first flight, and later on the second flight, which will carry up to four astronauts in the Orion spacecraft on a journey around the moon, into the deep-space proving ground for the technology needed for the journey to Mars.
"There is no other facility that can handle something as big as the SLS hydrogen tank," said Sam Stephens, an SLS engineer working on the tests at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "There are few places in the world like NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility that could build these things, and even fewer that can test them."
After the project began in May 2014, Test Stand 4693 changed the skyline of Marshall as its twin towers soared to 221 feet (67.4 meters). In December, contractors and steelworkers handed the stand over to Marshall engineers, who are now busy installing complex networks of cables, pipes, valves, control systems, cameras, lighting and specially designed test equipment.
“The scale and capability of this test stand are unique, and creating it has taken people from across the country, from all walks of life -- concrete suppliers and finishers, steel fabricators and erectors, bolt manufacturers and more," said Robert Bobo, who manages SLS structural strength testing at Marshall. "Everyone who's touching this is proud of the Space Launch System, an American rocket that will send astronauts farther in space than humans have ever traveled before."
The stand will simulate the powerful dynamics of launch and flight by pushing, pulling and bending the SLS liquid hydrogen qualification test article, recently constructed by Boeing at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The 149-foot-long (45.4 meters) test article consists of a liquid hydrogen tank and equipment attached at each end to simulate the other parts of the 212-foot-long (64.6 meters) core stage, the backbone of the rocket. Together, the SLS liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks will feed 733,000 gallons (nearly 3 million liters) of super-cooled propellant to four RS-25 engines, producing a total of 2 million pounds of thrust at the base of the core stage.
The liquid hydrogen tank test article will travel by barge from Michoud to Marshall. When testing begins, the tank test article will be positioned between the towers, suspended beneath a crosshead. A total of 38 hydraulic cylinders or “loadlines,” each weighing from 500 to 3,200 pounds (approximately 230 to 1,500 kilograms), will be individually calibrated, outfitted with custom-built test cells to send and receive instructions and data, and then positioned at points all along the tank. At the base, 24 of the largest cylinders -- 3,200 pounds each, about as heavy as a medium-sized car -- will simulate the thrust produced by the RS-25 engines.
During testing, the cylinders extend and retract, pushing and pulling in different combinations against the test article, the test stand base and towers, applying millions of pounds of pulling and crushing force and up to 340,000 pounds (approximately 1.5 million newtons) of shearing or sideways force. During 30 or more test scenarios, instrumentation will capture more than 3,500 strain and detection measurements, temperatures, pressures, high-definition images and other information.
Careful attention to construction of the stand and the comprehensive testing is vital because every weld, every bolt, every connection, every measurement is important. "Everyone working on this knows that even the smallest things matter in such a big project," Stephens said.
Nearby, similar preparations have been underway since September 2016 on Test Stand 4697, where the SLS's 70-foot-tall (21.3 meter) liquid oxygen tank test article will be anchored in the crook of the L-shaped stand's arms. Because it takes some time for the cryogenic tanks to be brought to the precise temperatures and pressures required, teams also are preparing for some round-the-clock test sessions. A tank's complete test series might take up to four months.
As the new test stands move past the major construction phase, so does the job of Phil Hendrix. He's been the Marshall Center Operations construction project manager for both stands since they were just ideas on paper in 2012, and will continue to provide support as his day-to-day focus shifts to other center operations needs and projects. As the stands took shape, Hendrix said he could see the steelworkers and welders from across the country develop a sense of mission as they worked, and all delivered.
"It really comes down to people when you need to get anything done. And I think NASA brings out the best in people," he said. "It's the sense of awe and wonder about what's out there, about exploration, imagination, pride and patriotism. It's what happens because of our mission."
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
NASA Assigns Upcoming Space Station Crew Members (Press Release)
NASA is assigning veteran astronaut Andrew Feustel and first-flight astronaut Jeanette Epps to missions aboard the International Space Station in 2018.
Feustel will launch in March 2018 for his first long-duration mission, serving as a flight engineer on Expedition 55, and later as commander of Expedition 56. Epps will become the first African American space station crew member when she launches on her first spaceflight in May 2018. She’ll join Feustel as a flight engineer on Expedition 56, and remain on board for Expedition 57.
“Each space station crew brings something different to the table, and Drew and Jeanette both have a lot to offer,” said Chris Cassidy, chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “The space station will benefit from having them on board.”
A native of Lake Orion, Michigan, Feustel was selected as part of the 2000 astronaut class and, in 2009, flew on the space shuttle Atlantis for the final servicing mission of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. He made his first trip to the space station in 2011 as a member of the STS-134 crew on space shuttle Endeavour’s final mission.
Feustel has a bachelor’s degree in solid Earth sciences and a master’s degree in geophysics from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. In 1995, he completed his doctorate in geological sciences, with a specialization in seismology, from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
Epps earned a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1992 at LeMoyne College in her hometown of Syracuse, New York. She went on to complete a master’s of science in 1994 and a doctorate in 2000 in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland.
While earning her doctorate, Epps was a NASA Graduate Student Researchers Project fellow, authoring several journal and conference articles on her research. After completing graduate school, she went on to work in a research laboratory for more than two years, co-authoring several patents, before being recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency. She spent seven years as a CIA technical intelligence officer before being selected as a member of the 2009 astronaut class.
Feustel and Epps will join a long and distinguished line of astronauts who have crewed the International Space Station since November 2000. With the help of the more than 200 astronauts who have visited, the space station enables us to demonstrate new technologies and make research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. Its convergence of science, technology and human innovation provide a springboard to NASA's next giant leap in exploration, including the Journey to Mars.